Geopolitics

Pro-Russians Dead In Ukraine, China Knife Attack, Robot Sex

Liverpool’s Luis Suaraz breaks down in tears during the game against Crystal Palace Monday.
Liverpool’s Luis Suaraz breaks down in tears during the game against Crystal Palace Monday.

OVER 30 DEAD IN EASTERN UKRAINE
Ukraine’s Interim Interior Minister Arsen Avakov announced on his Facebook page that more than 30 pro-Russian militants, labelled as “terrorists,” had been killed in the army’s offensive in Eastern Ukraine, The Guardian reports. According to officials, four Ukrainian troops were killed and at least 30 were injured in the fighting. Meanwhile, pro-Russian activists have claimed that 20 of their militants died as dozens of civilians were injured in the army’s attack on Sloviansk yesterday.

Foreign ministers from the Council of Europe have gathered in Vienna for a meeting expected to focus on the Ukrainian crisis, although Austria’s foreign minister already warned, “You cannot expect miracles from the conference because there won't be any.” Reuters also reports that the Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministers met briefly at the conference.

Russia’s Defense Ministry announced that Moscow would spend almost $2.5 billion by 2020 to expand its fleet in the Black Sea and install new air defense and marine units in Crimea, RT reports. Meanwhile, the country’s deputy foreign minister said that despite the tensions with the United States over the situation in Ukraine, Russia would abide by its 2010 nuclear arms reduction treaty. Read more from Reuters.

SOCCER DRAMA, LIVERPOOL STYLE
Liverpool’s Luis Suaraz broke down in tears during the Premier League game against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park. Monday night. After the game finished with a 3-3 draw — during which Liverpool gave up goals in quick succession — the team lost what could have been its first title in 24 years.

UN CHIEF IN SOUTH SUDAN
United Nations’ Secretary General Ban Ki-moon arrived in war-torn South Sudan in a new attempt to push for a ceasefire, almost five months after the beginning of a civil war that some fear is turning into genocide, AFP reports. The UN chief’s visit comes after yesterday’s failed offensive from the army to retake the rebel-held town of Bentiu, an attack John Kerry condemned.

20
The Channel Tunnel — more affectionately known as the Chunnel — is now two decades old.

KNIFE ATTACK IN CHINA
At least six people were injured in a knife attack this morning just outside a railway station in the southeastern city of Guangzhou, Xinhua reports. The victims have been transported to a hospital, and their wounds are not believed to be life threatening. Police shot and caught one of the suspects. The attack comes just one week after another railway station was targeted in a blast and knife attack in the Xinjiang region. In early March, 29 people were killed in a coordinated knife attack at Kunming’s train station.

VERBATIM
“I want to tell you that it is not me that finished the Muslim Brotherhood. You, the Egyptians, are the ones who finished it,” former Egyptian army chief Abdul Fattah al-Sisi said during his first interview with Egyptian TV to launch his presidential campaign.

DIVER DIES IN FERRY SEARCH
A 53-year-old diver taking part in the search operations in the sunken South Korean ferry has died after falling unconscious underwater, Yonhap reports. The search for the 39 people still missing have continued, however, with the death toll now standing at 263. In a scathing article, South Korean daily Chosun Ilbo describes how the sunken ship had been regularly overloaded, with its operator choosing to ignore passenger safety in the face of higher profits.

WORLDCRUNCH TO-GO
As Süddeutsche Zeitung’s Berit Uhlmann writes, vegan food offerings can often be deceiving. In a sampling of products tested, many had high fat and sodium content and others were not at all natural. “Vegans and vegetarians who do not banish any and all processed products from their diets cannot escape the tricks of the food industry,” the journalist writes. “When it comes to names, for example, something like ‘Bio-Plus-3’ may sound organic, but it requires reading the small print on the package to discover that it’s contents are not entirely natural. Meanwhile, a cranberry bar turns out to contain mainly almonds, date paste and only a smattering of berries.” Read the full article, It May Be Vegan, But That Doesn't Mean It's Healthy

IRAN’S ANNUAL OIL AND GAS FAIR OPENS
Iran launched its 19th International Oil, Gas, Refining and Petrochemical Exhibition in Tehran today, with 600 major foreign energy companies expected to attend and position themselves in anticipation of a possible lift of sanctions, three times more than last year, PressTV reports. Under international sanctions, the country, which is home to the third-largest oil reserves and the second-largest gas reserves, is currently limited in its export of oil to 1.2 million barrels per day. Read more from AFP.

MY GRAND-PÈRE'S WORLD

WOULD YOU?
A recent poll suggests that one in six Britons would have sex with a robot.

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Society

Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum

-Analysis-

SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.


It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

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